Senior Citizens & Young Students Bond in Reading Buddies Program

By: Elise Phillips Margulis


Each week at participating elementary schools in New Jersey, senior citizens and retired adults read to groups of four or five children in kindergarten, first grade and second grade. The volunteers read to the same student group for the entire academic year. 


Reading Buddies is a project of the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), and it has been a resounding success. The students enjoy being read to, and the adults have fun sharing their love of literature with the children.


The RSVP of Essex and Hudson Counties launched Reading Buddies in 2016. The initial participating elementary schools included Mt. Pleasant Elementary in West Orange, South Mountain Annex in the South Orange/Maplewood District and Lincoln Avenue Elementary in Orange. Washington Elementary in West Orange joined the program in 2017. 


According to Stephanie Grove, Director of RSVP, Reading Buddies added two more schools and additional services in 2019. “We are proud to announce the expansion of Reading Buddies to Hazel Elementary and Redwood Elementary Schools in West Orange. Within each school we have also expanded Reading Buddies to include special needs and English as a Second Language classrooms.”  


The Essex and Hudson counties program was modeled after the RSVP of Monmouth County’s Reading Buddies program which has been successfully running Reading Buddies for over 20 years.


Grove talked about how the children respond to the seniors who read to them. “The students we serve adore their Readers. The children spend the school year forming a bond with their reader. By the end of the school year, each child can tell you their favorite book, what characters they like best, and that they hope to resume the program in the fall.”


Grove also mentioned that each child receives a book to read over the summer. The students create beautiful hand-drawn thank you cards for their Readers at the end of the school year.


The volunteers enjoy giving back to their community. They are bibliophiles who love sharing their passion for reading with their students. The volunteers have fun interacting with children and other volunteers while helping the students develop a love of reading. 


Grove summarized the program’s purpose. “RSVP connects volunteers ages 55+ with opportunities to make a difference in their community. Reading Buddies, one of our core initiatives, is an intergenerational program designed to increase literacy, vocabulary, and listening skills in children.”


Teachers’ feedback about Reading Buddies has been very positive. One said, “The meaningful connection with the Buddy Reader in our small group works very well as my students practice good listening. The students enjoyed the visits and looked forward to the Reader visiting each week.”


Other teachers shared in the annual survey that the program made a big impact on the children and that the Readers’ enthusiasm for books made the students excited about literature. 


Julie Cramer, RSVP Program Manager, oversees Reading Buddies. Anyone interested in volunteering or to learn more about the program can contact her at 973-637-1761 or

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